December 3, 1983

December 3, 2011

By December 1983, my radio listening habits were going through a migration from Top 40 stations, which I had been listening to for a couple years, to the album rock of Q95 and, mostly in the evenings when reception was possible, the newly-minted 97X.

But, Casey Kasem and American Top 40 was still a drowsy weekend morning staple and I would often peruse Billboard magazine when I’d come across a copy in the magazine racks at Walden Books while hanging out in the malls in Cincinnati.

During the first week of December, 1983, nine songs debuted on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart…

Rodney Dangerfield – Rappin’ Rodney
from Rappin’ Rodney (1983)
(debuted #96, peaked #83, 8 weeks on chart)

I’d skip most of the songs that debuted this week if they shuffled up on the iPod, perhaps pausing for a nostalgic moment to think, yeah I remember this one, didn’t care for it in 1983 and I am no more interested now.

In the case of Rappin’ Rodney, I’d halt long enough to pay respect to the late comedian, but when it comes to Mr. Dangerfield, I want to watch him verbally joust with Sam Kinison in Back To School or sink Judge Smails’ newly-christened sloop in Caddyshack not listen to him rap.

Streets – If Love Should Go
from 1st (1983)
(debuted #90, peaked #87, 5 weeks on chart)

Streets was a short-lived venture formed by keyboardist/singer Steve Walsh who left Kansas in 1981 following the conversion of several members to Christianity and their desire to incorporate their faith into the music.

(as someone living in an über-pious part of the country, those born-again Christians can be a shrill bunch and, as Hank Hill once opined on King Of The Hill, “You people are not making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock ‘n’ roll worse”)

I used to hear If Love Should Go a lot on the radio, but it’s fairly generic and unremarkable arena rock that hardly stood out. By the end of the ’80s, Walsh had reconsituted Kansas, which had broken up after two albums released during his absence.

Anne Murray – A Little Good News
from A Little Good News (1983)
(debuted #88, peaked #74, 9 weeks on chart)

I have a soft spot for Anne Murray’s early ’70s stuff hits Snowbird and Danny’s Song as I’d often hear them on the car radio on whatever light rock station my parents would have dialed up.

I also heard A Little Good News a lot, again, thanks to the parents who would have the kitchen radio tuned to our town’s radio station before school. The station had flipped from light rock to country, so Murray was a natural fit.

However, hearing Murray’s lament about the state of the world makes me think of Lori, a sophomore classmate at the time. She was a tomboy who was on the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams and I spent much of that year quite smitten with her.

The smit went unrequited, but the two of us were good friends and hung out in several classes we had together. For some reason, I still remember her singing A Little Good News one day while we were working on an experiment in chemistry class.

The Doors – Gloria
from Alive, She Cried (1983)
(debuted #86, peaked #71, 7 weeks on chart)

Although, not unexpectedly, the kids with whom I went to school were mostly into the then-current bands of the early ’80s, there was a great, mass appreciation for the music of The Doors, who had ceased to exist well before any of us had even reached school age.

(there were even classmates who claimed to have a very personal connection to the band)

Alive, She Cried was a live compilation culled from performances by The Doors between 1968 and 1970 and I remember hearing Gloria a lot on Q95 that autumn. Personally,I’d rather hear the band doing one of their trippy originals than a version of the Them classic.

Jump ‘N The Saddle – The Curly Shuffle
from Jump ‘N The Saddle (1983)
(debuted #86, peaked #15, 14 weeks on chart)

Three Stooges-mania swept through our junior high in the late ’70s/early ’80s, though I’m not sure what triggered the mass rediscovery of Larry, Curly, and Moe amongst us.

There must have been something going on in the rest of the country, too, as Jump ‘N The Saddle’s homage to the Stooges was inescapable in the winter of ’83. It was a fun song for the first several thousand times and, then, it was not so fun.

Night Ranger – (You Can Still) Rock in America
from Midnight Madness (1983)
(debuted #83, peaked #51, 12 weeks on chart)

The San Francisco band Night Ranger was quickly embraced by the rock stations I was listening to and Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sing Me Away got their 1982 debut album a lot of attention.

So, it wasn’t a surprise to hear (You Can Still) Rock in America a lot when Midnight Madness was released even if the song didn’t reach the Top 40. The song had a sound tailor-made for the heartland and to be played on the radio alongside contemporaries like Journey, Foreigner, and Billy Squier.

A few months later, Sister Christian was issued as the second single from Midnight Madness, propelling Night Ranger to headlining status for a few years and giving the band one of the more enduring hits of the ’80s.

Bonnie Tyler – Take Me Back
from Faster Than The Speed Of Night (1983)
(debuted #75, peaked #46, 9 weeks on chart)

I’ve dug Bonnie Tyler’s raspy vocals from the first time I heard the Welsh singer in 1978 on her Top Ten hit It’s A Heartache.

Five years later, Tyler had another hit in the States with the Total Eclipse Of The Heart, a song so epic that it had its own postal code and sold millions of copies of its parent album, the Jim Steinman-produced Faster Than The Speed Of Night.

Take Me Back was another dramatic lament to love lost and, while not a bad song, it failed to reach the heights of its predecessor.

The Motels – Remember The Nights
from Little Robbers (1983)
(debuted #67, peaked #36, 12 weeks on chart)

Each and every time I do one of these recaps, it seems that The Motels pop up.

Not as dark or moody as Only The Lonely or Suddenly Last Summer, Remember The Nights is still a nice showcase for the compelling vocals of lead singer Martha Davis and, though not as successful or as well remembered as those two songs, it still managed to reach the Top 40 for a few weeks in early 1984.

Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
from Colour By Numbers (1983)
(debuted #52, peaked #1, 22 weeks on chart)

Though I wouldn’t have trumpeted it at the time, I quite liked Culture Club’s first two singles – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? and Time (Clock Of The Heart) – and, now, I’d call both of them brilliant, timeless pop songs.

(there was no excuse for I’ll Tumble 4 Ya, though)

The group had reached iconic status by the time the harmonica-driven Karma Chameleon was released in late ’83 and the irresistibly catchy song became Culture Club’s biggest hit in the States.

Over the next six months, there would be several more hits from Colour By Numbers but the celebrity of Boy George and his antics would soon outstrip interest in the music of Culture Club.

The Daughters Of The Lizard King

May 15, 2010

Channel-surfing the other night, I happened across When You’re Strange, the new documentary on The Doors. I walked in late and it was past my bedtime, but I watched half an hour or so.

Maybe it was late and I can’t necessarily remember ever hearing him interviewed before – plus I can only hear Val Kilmer instead – but there was something about the manner in which Jim Morrison mumbled his answers that made me think of Napoleon Dynamite.

I was distracted by the thought.

Though Jim Morrison was dead before I turned four, The Doors have been a presence in my life for as long as I’ve listened to music.

In the early ’80s, the rock radio station in our small town switched formats – rock to country. It truly was for the best.

My mom knew someone at the station – our town’s population was well under three-thousand – and, having noticed my budding interest in music, snagged a box of 45s that no longer fit the format

There must have been a hundred or so singles – some New Wave-styled Alice Cooper song, three or four singles from The Cars’ Panorama (even though the album’s lone hit was Touch And Go), and others I’ve long forgotten.

There was also a handful of hits by The Doors and, thinking back, it must have been the first time I heard the band. I remember People Are Strange and finding it’s vibe to be a bit disturbing. It was like a sudden chill.

In high school, several years later and a dozen years since their final album with Morrison, The Doors were as popular with most of the students as The Beatles or Stones and newer acts like Van Halen, The Cars, and Def Leppard.

I have no idea why. Their songs weren’t played much on the stations we listened to, though there was a new release from The Doors during that time with ’83’s Alive, She Cried live set.

Nearly a decade later, Oliver Stone released his bio-pic on The Doors. I knew their best-known songs – I think I had a copy of The Doors Greatest Hits on taped from a friend – and I’d read a copy of roommate’s No One Here Gets Out Alive, but I wasn’t an obsessive fan of the band.

But Stone was on a roll with Platoon and Wall Street and Val Kilmer was one of the best actors around. I caught a midnight showing at an old theater from the ’50s with several friends.

The place was packed. We were late. The few remaining seats were in the front few rows.

It was a hyperactive flick and a whiplash-inducing two hours and twenty minutes. One scene that stood out simply because it was one moment of calm was a shot of Kilmer as Morrison walking down a deserted street at dawn.

And, both times that I’ve been to Paris, I’ve made the trek to Père Lachaise, where Morrison is buried. Both times the weather was grey, cool, and rainy – one during the chill of a early, spring afternoon; the other, in late autumn.

But the thing that I think of first when I think of The Doors are two girls in high school. Two sisters. One was my age and the other a year younger.

And of all the fans of The Doors in our high school, the sisters were the most obsessive and claimed that Morrison was their father.

OK. It seemed highly unprobable that Mr. Mojo Risin’ had fathered two girls who ended up living in the middle of nowhere, in a town with three stoplights, but the man was a rock star and fond of the ladies, so I suppose it wasn’t impossible, I thought at the time.

And the sisters were adament, clinging to the declaration with the same veracity with which I lock onto a chicken drumstick.

Unfortunately for them, it appears that of the more than twenty paternity suits naming Morrison at the the time of his death, none were pursued against his estate and the only public claim after his death was a man and proven to be a fraud.

But Morrison has remained a pop culture fixture and, though I’ve never progressed beyond being a casual fan, there’s some fantastic stuff in The Doors’ catalog with few frontmen ever matching the charisma and magnetism of the self-proclaimed Lizard King.

Here are four from The Doors…

The Doors – Strange Days
from The Best Of The Doors

While People Are Strange unnerved me, the title track from its parent album had a more playful vibe to me. Maybe that’s because it somewhat reminded me of the song Gene Wilder croons on the boat ride in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – “There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going…”

Actually, come to think of it, that kind of makes the song disturbing in its own right.

The Doors – Five To One
from The Best Of The Doors

According to Wikipedia. Five To One‘ is rumored to be the approximate ratio of whites to blacks, old to young, non-pot smokers to pot smokers in the US or the ratio of Viet Cong to American troops in Vietnam.

Personally, I’ve always loved the song’s ominious mood and martial cadence.

The Doors – Touch Me
from The Doors Greatest Hits

Poor Robby Krieger. The guitarist for The Doors wrote many of the group’s best-known songs including Light My Fire, but most fans simply assume Morrison penned all of the band’s lyrics.

Krieger also wrote Touch Me, not only one of the band’s biggest radio hits but a song that apparently polarized fans of The Doors at the time with its incorporation of brass and orchestration.

Whatever the case, I think it’s a stellar and insanely catchy pop song.

The Doors – L.A. Woman
from The Doors Greatest Hits

Though I’ve had the good fortune to do a fair amount of traveling, the only time I’ve spent in Southern California has been a few hours enjoying the ambience of LAX on a layover. So, my vision of Los Angeles has been forged through films and song.

The bluesy, driving L.A. Woman is one of those songs.

I Suppose That You Had To Be There

August 18, 2009

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo regarding the 40th anniversary of Woodstock and there’s been no shortage of fascinating stuff to read and view. Personally, I wasn’t even walking, yet, when the boomers threw that bash.

Until I was nine or ten, Woodstock was a bird, a Sundance Kid to Snoopy’s Butch Cassidy.

It was in the late ‘70s – maybe on the 10th anniversary – that I saw the documentary of the festival. I was only beginning to care about music, but I had little knowledge of the performers. I might have known the name Jimi Hendrix.

(and, given that admission of ignorance I am inclined to not belittle the cops in Jersey who had no idea that they had apprehended Bob Dylan, but, then again, what kind of cultural vacuum do you have to be living in to not know who Bob Dylan is?)

Anyhow, I do remember coming across Woodstock (the film) surfing through the half-dozen or so channels one Saturday night as a kid. Like Soylent Green, it was tagged with some kind of “mature audiences” disclaimer which, to state the obvious, made it must-see viewing.

(I suspect that whoever thought that those disclaimers would protect the children from potentially perilous material most likely wouldn’t be able to pick Bob Dylan out of a line-up)

So, I watched the movie and I might as well have been watching a National Geographic special on the indigenous people of New Guinea. No one really looked like anyone I knew and the music was equally inscrutable to my young ears. Through the years that followed, I learned more about the lore of Woodstock and the acts that performed that weekend.

But Woodstock never really connected to me. As for the legacy of the festival and what it all meant, there are folks far more qualified to comment on that subject.

I suppose, like most things in life, Woodstock was something for which you had to be there (and I wasn’t).

Here are a few songs by acts that were invited to perform but, for various reasons, weren’t there, either.

The Doors – Break On Through (To The Other Side)
from The Doors

The Byrds – So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
from Younger Than Yesterday

Bob Dylan – Maggie’s Farm
from Bringing It All Back Home

Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
from Ladies Of The Canyon